As protests continue over the police shooting of an unarmed teenager more than a week ago in Ferguson, Mo., a new museum exhibit is examining design’s role in such political demonstrations from a safe distance.
Disobedient Objects, on display until February at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum looks at how physical objects shape movements for social change, complete with DIY guides for making your own homemade protest equipment. The exhibition “demonstrates how political activism drives a wealth of design ingenuity and collective creativity that defy standard definitions of art and design,” according to the museum, focusing on objects dating back to the 1970s. The designs on display, many on loan from activist groups, range from jewelry made by the jailed members of the Black Panthers, to an inflatable cobblestone thrown at demonstrations in Barcelona, to pamphlets and homemade badges.
Most political movements are not led by artists and designers, and the tools of protest are often makeshift and homemade. Perhaps more relevant to the average political agitator, the museum is providing how-to guides with basic instructions on putting together tools of protest like makeshift tear-gas masks, riot shields, and more.
The guides, illustrated by Lebanese graphic designer Marwan Kaabour, were inspired by the simple solutions devised by political activists in situations like Turkey’s anti-government protests last year, where protesters used plastic bottles to fashion protections against tear gas. The cheerful, bright yellow guides seem to belie the violence of the situations that inspired them, even as the illustrations show things like police advancing on protesters with batons raised. And yet, the instructions are strictly utilitarian: tear gas has played a major role in dispersing crowds of protesters this past week in Missouri, and civilians don’t usually have access to the gas masks that can block the pain-triggering chemical clouds.